Monday, September 1, 2014

"Nothing Ever Happens With Schools In the Summer"

Although it's true that with the advent of school I always feel like a Mack Truck has hit me, the idea that nothing ever happens with schools in the summer is completely deceptive.

It reminds me of a book we used to read to our kids when they were little:
Ellen Raskin's Nothing Ever Happens On My Block.

In that book, a kid bemoans that nothing ever happens on his block. Meanwhile...


Consider what has happened this summer in Ann Arbor alone:

1. Three high schools have new principals--Huron, Community, and Pioneer. Given that Skyline got a new principal last year (as did Pioneer, actually--twice), we can understand this as a major changing of the guard! Many more elementary and middle schools have new principals.

2. There were a lot of retirements (given salary cuts, I don't find that at all surprising) and a new World Languages Initiative, so it's not surprising there was lots of hiring of teachers as well. Even after all the budget cuts, Ann Arbor pays more than some school districts (like Ypsilanti) and is perceived as having more opportunities (because of its size), and so many of the teachers are coming from other schools or charters.

3. The new Ann Arbor STEAM school was. . . picking up steam and getting ready to roll. You can follow them on Twitter, if you do that, at @a2steam.

4. For the second time in two years, a big contingent of administrators and teachers went to Singapore. Jenna Bacolor, the Director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, blogged about it: post #1, post #2, post #3.

5. Jeanice Swift hit her one-year anniversary as Ann Arbor superintendent--generally, I think, to positive reviews. [And if you have an issue with something she does, or if you want to offer some praise, I suggest you email her directly at I have found her to be remarkably responsive to emails. In fact, I'm not exactly sure when she sleeps.]

6. We have enlisted 10. Yes. TEN. candidates for Ann Arbor school board. For four positions. I think that's fantastic!

7. The school board began and intensified very serious discussions about annexing Whitmore Lake schools.

And then there's Ypsilanti: 

Meanwhile, Ypsilanti Community Schools--only a year old--has lots of new staff, including a new athletic director and band director (those two things, I think will make a lot of people happy); has a new superintendent (who was the old Willow Run superintendent, and the assistant superintendent last year)--Laura M. ; has 18 candidates for 7 school board positions; reconfigured some schools, and had Holmes Elementary try a year-round "balanced calendar" schedule.

And statewide: 

1. The Detroit Free Press ran a blockbuster series of articles on charter schools. Really, it gives me hope for investigative journalism.

2. This caused the State Board of Education and Superintendent to finally promise to take some action on regulating charter schools--finally! You can look at it as "too little, too late" or "better late than never."

3. A new organization, Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change, got started. It is "Devoted to raising awareness & taking action to refocus our state's resources on our students and communities." This past week, they had a rally in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor's own Superintendent Jeanice Swift, Representative Jeff Irwin, teacher Quinn Straessel, some Ann Arbor students, and several others were speakers. And several school board candidates were there. I had put out a call for someone to take pictures, and many thanks to Jack Panitch for sending me some! As it happens, I was able to stop by for a few minutes, and found a great spirit there. I also found they were giving out free ice cream sandwiches--and with that, they surely won over my heart (well, more like my stomach. . . )!

Photo by Jack Panitch

Quinn Straessel, Ann Arbor teacher and
one of the initiators of M-TAC. Photo by Jack Panitch.

I really like the context of the historic sign in the background,
"Residential Life in Mid-19th Century Ann Arbor," with the
"Public School=Democracy" sign. Photo by Jack Panitch.

Ann Arbor Superintendent Jeanice Swift promised in her job interview
that she would be willing to engage with the state legislature
to advocatefor adequate public school funding, and here she is
speaking at the M-TAC rally. Photo by Jack Panitch.

Photo by Jack Panitch.


Tomorrow is the first day of school for many kids in Michigan.

It is also--sad to say--the last day of publication for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. I did have a few columns in the Chronicle (and experienced some wonderful editing at their hands), but that's not why I'm going to miss them. I'm going to miss them for their attention to local news. We need more of that. For a while they covered the Ann Arbor school board in detail, but then they couldn't do that any more, which was too bad, but really--we need that coverage not just for Ann Arbor, but for every school board and charter school in this nation. Awareness. Reporting. Transparency. 

Is it then that the Chronicle is the end? 


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time? (William Shakespeare, Macbeth)

Don't count on it. Shakespeare could be a real killjoy. I believe that something new, and good, will come along. But Ann Arbor Chronicle, we will miss you!

It's fitting, to me, that on the penultimate day of the publication of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, David Erik Nelson--another Chronicle columnist--wrote a lovely essay about the meaning and need for our public schools, and about some Ann Arbor schools history. 

As a thanks to Mary Morgan and Dave Askins, take a few minutes to read David Erik Nelson's article, and remind yourself what it is, exactly, that teachers do--and why, though your child may say that "nothing" happens in school this year, something probably will. 

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thursday 8/28/14 Rally for Public Education in Ann Arbor

Here's some information about Thursday's Rally for Public Education:

Yup, I took this from the other day's post.
Find out where this cute picture comes from here!

Thursday, August 28th
5:30-6:30 p.m.
Liberty Plaza, downtown Ann Arbor off Liberty St. 

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (Ann Arbor),
AAPS superintendent Dr Jeanice Swift
AAEA president Linda Carter
Oakland Co. Clerk (and now Lt Gov candidate) Lisa Brown. (As a state representative, Ms. Brown served as the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.) 

There will also be brief readings by Ann Arbor student poets.

The rally is being organized by a newly formed group, Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change - a group of Ann Arbor-area teachers and other concerned citizens getting politically active to support public education. 

For more information, and to RSVP (helpful but not necessary), please see the event description posted on Facebook:

P.S. I can't be there. But if anyone wants to take pictures and send them to me, I will turn that into a blog post (and...special could get a photo credit!).

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our Public Schools, Our Pride: A Bit of Manchester Schools History

A meeting at a Manchester school building took me past Alumni Memorial Field. I liked the sign, and when I saw the plaque, I knew there must be a bit of history there.

Alumni Memorial Field in Manchester, Michigan. The stone pillars
are from the 1939 dedication and the sign is from the 1991 dedication.
Photo by Ruth Kraut.
The plaque reads: "Alumni Memorial Athletic Field. Dedicated September 13, 1939 As a Memorial to Teachers Evan Essery and Minnie Sullivan Spaford. Rededicated July 18, 1991 in Remembrance of All Manchester Alumni and Faculty." Photo by Ruth Kraut
I figured that when the field was rededicated, the memories of Evan Essery and Minnie Sullivan Spaford had faded for many people. I started looking to see what I could find.

According to the Manchester Historical Society records, Evan Essery was a school teacher and then served as the Manchester Schools Superintendent for fifteen years. In 1908 he was replaced by Frank E. Howard.

[Side note: if you haven't already done so, you should take some time and check out some of the archives of our local historical societies--they are awesome.]

About Minnie C. Sullivan Spaford, at first all I could find was that she was a graduate of the class of 1881, which had ten graduates.

But then--doing searches in a variety of ways--I found some dates and names that matched, only the name was Minnie C. Sullivan Spafard. And that Minnie lived from 1861-1927 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, just off W. Austin Road.

Then I found, online, a .pdf of an article from the Manchester Enterprise on the 1991 field rededication, which explained some of the history, including that the 1939 dedication was a two-day festival!

On September 13 and 14, 1939, as a part of Gala Days and Homecoming celebration, the field was dedicated as Alumni Memorial Field because it had been purchased by the Alumni Association and donated to the school district. Acquisition of this field took our athletes out of Albert Kiebler's cow pasture, off Grossman Road, just south of West Austin Road. It also broadened the possibilities for community events such as Gala Days, track meets for rural schools, the Fair, and finally, the Chicken Broil.  
The stone pillars you walked between to enter the field for your chicken dinners were constructed in memory of two well-loved teachers. Minnie Sullivan Spafard taught in the high school until she married Fred Spafard. . .  Evan Essary was superintendent of schools but in those days, the superintendent also taught full time.

Screen shot from the Annual Circular
of the Manchester Public Schools for 1899-1900, 
found online here. (Take a look at it, there is
some interesting information about how the
schools ran then!
I think the back page of the Annual Circular of the Manchester Public Schools for 1899-1900 really sums things up. Alumni Memorial Athletic Field, and the Manchester schools in general, have been a source of pride for the local community. As public schools should be, for all of us.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Can an On-line Course Teach Poetry Slams? A Guest Post by A3 Teacher

This is Part 2 of two posts about online learning by A3 Teacher. Here is Part 1.

Last week I wrote about my experience as a student taking an online course. In my experiences, as both a student and teacher, critical thinking skills are better developed in a traditional classroom.

Many on-line schools would like to give you the idea that you can teach or do (almost) anything virtually that you can do in person. For example, for the past several years, the Michigan Virtual University has hosted a Poetry Slam Contest.  Check out the video below.

Anyone who has been to an Ann Arbor Poetry Slam will be able to clearly see, hear, and feel the difference.  

Screen shot from a Communicator article which featured
the high school poetry slam. Videos are embedded
in the article.

[Editor's Note: I couldn't figure out how to embed any of these videos, BUT if you click on the link you can watch several videos from an Ann Arbor Poetry Slam.]

In this case, I believe that the coaching, mentoring, and collaboration of face-to-face meetings results in a drastic comparison.  This is just one comparison that is an example of the depth of learning and skill-building that can happen in a classroom.  

Classrooms benefit from face-to-face interaction and discussions.  Most private schools in the Ann Arbor area do not offer online classes but instead focus on the development of relationships and cultivating inquiry and deep critical thinking skills.  Some classes are taught “seminar-style” where discussion about topics and texts is in-depth and focuses on critical engagement and theory work.  Programs such as International Baccalaureate build on the concept of mastery through the intense development of discussion, verbal practice, and depth of knowledge. Certain assessments for the IB are audio recorded and sent to other countries for objective assessment.  

I am not yet convinced that online learning has reached the ability to adequately serve even the highest achieving students.

Something different happens in a classroom discussion that cannot be replicated online.  In the on-line class I took, most of the time I spent posting to the online discussion took 5-10 minutes each.  I could also be very selective in what I read (whose posts I read) and which posts I responded to.  In contrast, a Socratic Seminar, or a discussion that pulls in students’ perceptions and opinions, or a real-time discussion that can go on for over an hour is an important skill for students to master (this being said, discussions can also go very poorly without clear parameters or an instructor who knows how to guide students).  

When students engage in sustained reading, writing, and thinking, they develop critical thinking skills that develop true depth and mastery.  A Harvard professor has students spend three hours in an art gallery staring at a painting as part of an assignment.  She states that “Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity—and against this other kind of opportunity. I want to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.”  This is crucial.  

When a student spends 45 minutes with a primary document, or 70 minutes discussing a 10-line poem, or 50 minutes debating the ethics of cloning, students learn how to slow down, listen, and think.  This does not mean that discussions won’t get messy (sometimes good discussions have no definite result or a clear decisive outcome), but it means that students will develop deep critical thinking skills that will benefit them in a variety of areas in life.  Students learn impulse control and to consider multiple viewpoints as opposed to seeing the world in a reactionary and simplistic way. 

Something different happens in the human brain when students spend long amounts of time thinking, reading, writing, and listening. These processes - reading, writing, and thinking - go hand in hand. Isn't that what we want?

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Experience with Online Learning: A Guest Post by A3 Teacher

This is Part 1 of two posts about online learning by A3 Teacher.

Online learning opportunities abound now. How well do they work?

This past spring, Jamey Fitzpatrick, CEO and president of Michigan Virtual University (a not-for-profit corporation), was interviewed on Michigan Radio about online classes for high school students. In a candid interview he talked about the benefits and drawbacks to online learning.  I was struck by the honest statement from Mr. Fitzpatrick when he stated that online learning is currently producing “a mixed set of results."

Mr. Fitzpatrick acknowledged that “lower-achieving kids are being directed to online learning” and as a result many Michigan schools are using online learning as a form of credit recovery (Credit recovery is when a student does not pass a class and must retake it in order to receive credit for graduation).  He further states that 

The concept of allowing high-achieving kids to use online learning as, really, a vehicle to go farther faster, doesn’t appear to be a strategy that Michigan schools are using in large numbers, which really, really surprised us.  We thought this was about how to help young people go farther faster, not necessarily help the kids that are struggling. 

This last quote struck me as I thought about the high achieving students that I have worked with.  While there is a presumption that online learning is a way to learn more at a quicker pace, I would argue that face-to-face learning is very beneficial to all types of learners.

My Own Experience: "Easy to Fake"

This spring I took a class, along with many other AAPS teachers, through the Michigan Virtual University.  The class was called “Teaching in the Online and Blended Classroom.”  I went in trying my best to keep an open mind--I wanted to be convinced that I could get on board with online learning.  Having used Blackboard, Edmodo,, and other online platforms, I consider myself a teacher who embraces technology when it augments student learning and growth.  I wanted to be surprised and perhaps even inspired to delve deeper into teaching through an online or blended option (I should note that I am still interested in blended learning and think that there are some viable options with this model).

"My biggest criticism of online learning is that it
is pretty easy to fake."
My biggest criticism of online learning is that it is pretty easy to fake.  It was easy for me to not do all of the readings, not watch the cheesy videos, and still complete assignments.  The “discussions” required me to post a response to an initial question and then respond to three others.  It was very easy to pull from a bank of canned responses:  
"I agree with your comments about…," 
"I thought it was really interesting when you said…,"  
"I find the same is true in my classroom...."

What About Developing Critical Thinking Skills?

These responses, I found, required little critical thinking on my part.  Often times I felt that I was doing them just to complete the assignment.  At the beginning of the class I would check back to see others’ responses to my posts, but after a few weeks the novelty of it wore off.  I found myself completing the required number of posting and not logging back in (what would be my incentive besides genuine interest?).

I completed the writing assignments as well, and as with the discussions, I stopped reading feedback from the teacher.  I just checked the number score and moved on (perhaps this part isn’t so different from what students can do in the classroom).  I found that the written feedback seemed canned (It felt as if perhaps it was cut and pasted) and impersonal.  Additionally, the feedback was almost exclusively positive with little challenging or constructive criticism.  Some of the writing assignments felt like they were using technology for technology’s sake (like pinning images to a Pinterest page that no one else would look at).  While I received full-credit for the course, I felt like I slid my way through with little interaction or struggle.

While there is potential with online learning, I have yet to be convinced that students--including myself--can develop the deep critical thinking skills that can happen with the combination of a traditional classroom and a highly skilled educator.     

Have you had an experience with online learning? 
How did it work for you? (Comments, please.)

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Five Reasons I Support the Annexation of Whitmore Lake Schools by Ann Arbor

I support the annexation of Whitmore Lake schools by Ann Arbor schools--at least, conceptually speaking. I haven't seen all the details yet, but here's why I think it's a good thing.

1. I believe it will offer many more opportunities to Whitmore Lake students and teachers, without harming Ann Arbor students and teachers. For instance, do you know that Whitmore Lake High School students don't get a single AP course offering?

Whitmore Lake Elementary School sign
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

2. I have thought for a long time that the Whitmore Lake school district is too small. Whitmore Lake's total school population last year--K-12--was only around 1,000 students. Whitmore Lake has been operating with the lowest level of per-pupil amount of funding, which has made things very difficult for them, and the size of the district means there are few efficiencies to be found.

3. If Whitmore Lake were to continue down this road we might find them with an emergency manager, and I don't want any of the school districts in the county to be taken over by emergency managers.

4. I am not interested in a single-county district or in growing for growth's sake, but I feel a lot better annexing a district and keeping it as part of the public school economy than I do with siphoning off their population as "schools of choice" students--that weakens Whitmore Lake, and at the same time, those students of choice only bring with them to the Ann Arbor school district the Whitmore Lake students' per-pupil funding balance.

5. The "weighted average" of the per-pupil amounts means that the per-pupil amount for the Whitmore Lake school district students will increase by about $2,000 per pupil. I believe that many students in Whitmore Lake who have opted out of the district will come back, and if additional development takes place outside of the Ann Arbor city limits, there is a good chance it will happen there.

P.S. I've been asked by someone why Ann Arbor schools didn't make this same offer to Ypsilanti. Well really, that's looking at things the wrong way--because to my knowledge, Ypsilanti did not ask to be annexed by Ann Arbor, and Whitmore Lake approached Ann Arbor about being annexed. I think the Whitmore Lake school board is brave and open-minded for asking, and being willing to give up their seats.

P.P.S. Now you'll notice that I said, "Conceptually speaking." There are a gazillion details to look at, but for right now I think I'll be a strong supporter.

Read some stuff from Whitmore Lake about the proposed annexation.

Read some stuff from Ann Arbor about the proposed annexation. (Have you used Board Docs? Go to the 7 p.m. meeting on July 30th, then view the agenda. If you click on an agenda item on the left-hand side, the resolution or document will come up on the right-hand side. At least, usually it will.)

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

There's a Fine Crop of Candidates! I'm Excited.

Unofficial lists of candidates are in for all of the local school districts (here) and I am sure I will have more analysis later, but for now I can say that we have a terrific group of candidates for the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti schools.

In Ann Arbor, there are 

10 candidates for 4 positions, including two incumbent board members.

What's more, I think all 10 are really good candidates. I haven't vetted them all yet, so I'm not sure to what extent I agree or don't agree with their positions, but I do know that most of them have been invested in/following/volunteering in the Ann Arbor schools and the actions of the school board over the past few years.

Thank you,
Patricia Manley
Don Wilkerson
Christine Stead
Jack Panitch
Donna Lasinski
Susan Baskett
Roland Zullo
Jeffery Harrold
Hunter Van Valkenburgh
Deirdre Piper

In Ypsilanti, there are

4 candidates running for 2 full six-year spots.
8 candidates running for 3 partial four-year spots.
6 candidates running for 2 partial two-year spots.
(Remember, because this is the first time the board is being voted for, all seats are up for grabs and they had to be staggered.)

It's nice to see so much faith/willingness to roll up their sleeves and work for the future of the Ypsilanti Community Schools.

Thank you,

For the full six-year term (two spots available)
Brenda Meadows
Maria Sheler-Edwards
Gregory Myers
Bill Kurkjian

For the partial four-year term (three spots available)
Anthony VanDerworp
David Bates
Djeneba Cherif
Celeste Hawkins
Linda Snedecar-Horne
Ellen Champagne
Sharon Irvine
Mark Wilde

For the partial two-year term (two spots available)
Daniel Raglin
Don Garrett Jr.
KJ Miller
Sharon Lee
Ricky Jefferson
Meredith Schindler

As for the other school districts, it looks like the following districts will have uncontested elections.
Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Saline

Lincoln has 4 candidates for 3 positions:
Jennifer Czachorski, Tommy Burdette, Jennifer LaBombarbe, Thomas Rollins

Manchester has 4 candidates for 3 positions:
Michael Austin, Rebecca Harvey, Dara Psarouthakis, Jill Corwin

Whitmore Lake has 4 candidates for 2 positions:
Kalyndra Craven, James Vibbart, Anne Iaquinto, Lisa McCully
(Given the proposal to have Ann Arbor annex Whitmore Lake schools, this may be a race to watch if the candidates do not all have the same position.)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

YCS Citizens Finally Get to Choose a School Board--Who's Running?

Because of recent changes to state law, we only get to vote for school board members every two years. And because of the Ypsilanti/Willow Run schools merger, in the last two year cycle the citizens of the respective districts voted for their own school board members, and then also voted to consolidate.

So the new school board trustees were not seated, and due to the consolidation, a combined school board was appointed by the Washtenaw Intermediate School Board.

And so, for the past year and a half, Ypsilantians have had an appointed, not elected, school board.

Therefore, it's a rather momentous occasion that in November of 2014, they will be able to elect a school board for the first time.

I imagine you know what that means. There have to be some candidates, right? I'm hoping that there will be more than a few candidates. [That is not always true. It's not like the job pays very much, and the hours are fairly long.]

In the case of Ypsilanti, because it is the first time that there has been an elected school board, and everyone will be elected at once, and the board terms are six years long, some of the positions are partial terms (2 and 4 years).

Candidates have until July 22nd (that's next week) at 4 p.m. to file their petitions or pay their money. From the County Clerk's web site:

By 4:00 p.m., July 22, 2014 Local School Board candidates and Community College Trustee candidates who wish to seek office at the November general election file an Affidavit of Identity and a nonpartisan nominating petition. (A $100.00 nonrefundable fee may be filed in lieu of a petition.) Withdrawal deadline elapses at 4:00 p.m. on July 25.
There is also an unofficial list, on the county clerk's web site, of people who are likely candidates for office.

So in Ypsilanti, who has already indicated interest in running?

Running. [For office, of course.]
Taken from
under a Creative Commons license.

[Before I tell you, note that this may be a partial list. Looking at the Ann Arbor list, I have heard of people running who are not yet on the list.]

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - Regular 6 Year Term

Vote for two

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Brenda Meadows410 N. Harris Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
Maria Sheler-Edwards51 Colony Ct.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Maria Sheier-Edwards is on the current appointed YCS board. Brenda Meadows is not.

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - Partial Term ending 12/31/2018

Vote for three

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Anthony VanDerworp1309 Kingwood
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
David R. Bates1208 Pearl St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Djeneba Cherif948 Jefferson St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Anthony VanDerworp and David Bates are on the current YCS appointed board. Djeneba Cherif is not.

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - Partial Term ending 12/31/2016

Vote for two

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Daniel L. Raglin6825 Textile Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Daniel Raglin is on the current YCS appointed board. There is currently only one candidate listed as running for the two-year team.

I have heard a lot of grumbling over the past year and a half about the fact that the school board was appointed. This is not the fault of the WISD, or the Ypsilanti or Willow Run school boards--it was all a result of the decisions of the state legislature.

BUT--Ypsi peeps--don't you want more candidates? If the election only has three candidates for three slots (etcetera), that's not much of an election, is it? It's more like a walk in the park...

So consider running yourself, or recruiting someone to run. There's still (a little) time.

[Ann Arbor peeps--I have heard of several people who are running, so I'm pretty sure there will be a contested election. I don't know if that's true for other local elections--Lincoln, Saline, etc. because none of them at this point look like they will be contested, and I hope they will be.]

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Introducing a New Contributor, and a New Organization!

New Contributor

I am very excited to introduce a new guest blogger to Ann Arbor Schools Musings!

We'll be calling this teacher A3 Teacher, because he teaches in Ann Arbor, and would like to remain Anonymous.  For now I'll just tell you that he has several years of teaching under his belt, both in Ann Arbor and outside of Ann Arbor.


New Organization

For his first blog post, A3 Teacher would like to feature a new organization:

Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change meeting this Thursday

A new grassroots group organized by local teachers, families, and community members has begun in Southeastern Michigan  The group is called Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change (M-TAC for short) and in about a week and a half the group has swelled to just over 430 Facebook likes.  Following the recent investigative articles published by the Detroit Free Press on charter schools and the onslaught of for-profit schools in Michigan, this group seeks to inform citizens on the realities of public education in Michigan in order to best help students.  This non-partisan group is focused on positive action, both locally and at the state level.  

The group’s Facebook page states the description of the group as the following:

We are a grassroots group of teachers and allies working on behalf of public education. We are devoted to turning the tide against the for-profit and political forces in order to refocus our state's resources on students. We are dedicated to raising awareness and taking action based on what is best for our communities.

The group is holding an informational meeting in Ann Arbor on the evening on Thursday, July 10th at 6:00 p.m. for teachers, families, and allies of public education.  David Arsen, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Education, as well as State Board of Education president John Austin will speak for portions of the meeting.  If you haven’t yet read David Arsen’s Open Letter to Governor Snyder, it is an interesting and powerful read.  Additionally, John Austin’s Michigan Economic Center recently released a short promotional film titled The Michigan Dream at Risk.  

Interested in the new organization? Check out the Facebook page or RSVP to the Thursday event here.  

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Schools: Plus Ça Change Plus C'est la Même Chose*

*The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Last week I wrote about Freedom Schools and the Freedom School curriculum, and I was looking for an Ann Arbor connection.

Didn't find a direct one (although if I had actually visited the Ann Arbor library I am sure I would have). I did find this interesting article in the "Old News" section at

I was looking for information on Freedom Summer Schools and I found that in 1971 Ann Arbor had a Black Liberation School.

"Members of the Black Liberation School staff requested permission to use the facilities of Northside school this summer without paying rent," arguing that they were serving the Northside school district.

[Was anyone who read this a part of that? Please post some information about the Black Liberation School in the comments!]

But also, there were many things that sound like the themes of the Ann Arbor school board meetings today: budget cuts, layoffs and resignations. When more people resigned than expected, Superintendent Westerman (who still lives in Ann Arbor and is on the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel) told the school board, "We now have some freedom not anticipated to extend invitations to more of the probationary staff that were sent termination notices."

A citizen argued for transportation services to low-income students. "It is inhumane for the board to not at least give some assistance to these students." 

Last, but not least, the board recognized the retirements of custodians Clifford Bryant and Mikkel Thomsen, "for serving 'our school system with great loyalty and distinction.'"

Screen shot of a June 17, 1971 Ann Arbor News story.
Found online at:

I would be remiss, I think, if I didn't mention that the Ann Arbor District Library has a wonderful summer game, which you can play both off-line and on-line, and can be found at:

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Freedom Summer (50 Years Old) and Independence Day Thoughts

I was trying to think of an appropriate blog post in honor of Independence Day, when I heard on the radio that this summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.

Ahhh. Something I know a little bit about. Something highly meaningful. Something with an interesting curriculum!

What was Freedom Summer? According to the Congress of Racial Equality:

Freedom Summer was a highly publicized campaign in the Deep South to register blacks to vote during the summer of 1964.
During the summer of 1964, thousands of civil rights activists, many of them white college students from the North, descended on Mississippi and other Southern states to try to end the long-time political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the region. Although black men had won the right to vote in 1870, thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment, for the next 100 years many were unable to exercise that right. White local and state officials systematically kept blacks from voting through formal methods, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and through cruder methods of fear and intimidation, which included beatings and lynchings. The inability to vote was only one of many problems blacks encountered in the racist society around them, but the civil-rights officials who decided to zero in on voter registration understood its crucial significance as well the white supremacists did. An African American voting bloc would be able to effect social and political change.Freedom Summer officials also established 30 "Freedom Schools" in towns throughout Mississippi to address the racial inequalities in Mississippi's educational system. Mississippi's black schools were invariably poorly funded, and teachers had to use hand-me-down textbooks that offered a racist slant on American history. Many of the white college students were assigned to teach in these schools, whose curriculum included black history, the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, and leadership development in addition to remedial instruction in reading and arithmetic. The Freedom Schools had hoped to draw at least 1000 students that first summer, and ended up with 3000. The schools became a model for future social programs like Head Start, as well as alternative educational institutions.Freedom Summer activists faced threats and harassment throughout the campaign, not only from white supremacist groups, but from local residents and police. Freedom School buildings and the volunteers' homes were frequent targets; 37 black churches and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned during that summer, and the cases often went unsolved. More than 1000 black and white volunteers were arrested, and at least 80 were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers. But the summer's most infamous act of violence was the murder of three young civil rights workers, a black volunteer, James Chaney, and his white coworkers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. On June 21, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner set out to investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi, but were arrested that afternoon and held for several hours on alleged traffic violations. Their release from jail was the last time they were seen alive before their badly decomposed bodies were discovered under a nearby dam six weeks later. Goodman and Schwerner had died from single gunshot wounds to the chest, and Chaney from a savage beating. (Emphasis added.)

Wait--there was a Freedom Schools Curriculum?

Yes--they took themselves seriously! There was a full and interesting curriculum.
The Freedom Schools met across the state of Mississippi, and you can access the curriculum right here.
Details of the curriculum and PDFs can be found here.

Take a Look

Here is a short excerpt from Unit IV: Introducing the Power Structure.

Concept: That there are many kinds of power we could use to build a better society. What is power? (Power is the ability to move things.) What kinds of power are there? Discuss.

MississippiPolice state
One party
No vote
Unjust laws
Citizens Council
control, banks, jobs etc

Physical Power(Power to coerce or frighten)

Political Power
(Power to influence)

Economic Power
(Power to buy)
Freedom MovementFederal intervention
Convention Challenge
Negro candidates

Do these “powers” balance each other? Do they succeed in bringing the two sides together or do they tend to pull apart? Are there other kinds of power?

Truth Power
(Power to Convince or Persuade)
Does persuasion pull people apart? Is it a different kind of power? Can we use truth to reveal the lies and myths? What happens once they are revealed? Once someone is convinced or persuaded, can they join with us? Is the better world for them too?

Soul Power
(The Power to Love)
Can you love everyone like you love your family or your friends? What does compassion mean? Is that a kind of love? Is there something in other people that is like what is in you? Can soul power change things? How?

The Freedom Schools had a convention in August 1964, and this was the Education Platform that resulted. A lot of it will sound familiar!

     In an age where machines are rapidly replacing manual labor, job opportunities and economic security increasingly require higher levels of education. We therefore demand:
1. Better facilities in all schools. These would include textbooks, laboratories, air conditioning, heating, recreation, and lunch rooms.
2. A broader curriculum including vocational subjects and foreign languages.
3. Low fee adult classes for better jobs.
4. That the school year consist of nine (9) consecutive months.
5. Exchange programs and public kindergarten.
6. Better qualified teachers with salaries according to qualification.
7. Forced retirement (women 62, men 65).
8. Special schools for mentally retarded and treatment and care of cerebral palsy victims.
9. That taxpayers’ money not be used to provide private schools.
10. That all schools be integrated and equal throughout the country.
11. Academic freedom for teachers and students.
12. That teachers be able to join any political organization to fight for Civil Rights without fear of being fired.
13. That teacher brutality be eliminated.

Why do I share all of this? 

Two reasons.

1. From the editors of Education and Democracy,

The Freedom School Curriculum is one of the best examples of an effective progressive curriculum whose goal was to give students academic as well as democratic citizenship skills.  This site includes the original curriculum with supporting primary source materials, a brief historical context (editor’s introduction) and suggestions for how to use the FSC as curriculum today. Among those that we hope will find this material helpful are people starting modern freedom schools, high school and middle school teachers as well as progressive historians and teacher educators.
Photo by Tom Arthur. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Found here:

2. It's Independence Day this week. While we are out celebrating with fireworks, popsicles, parades and barbecues, let's not forget that a lot of the history of this big and beautiful country rests on the right to vote. The original "tea party" wasn't about "no taxation." It was about "no taxation without representation." Voting--it's something we shouldn't take for granted.


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